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12 Mar 2014

For Ethiopia and St George

It has become a commonplace. A big English public school opens a branch in some far-flung corner of the globe and tots and teens in Khazakstan, Shanghai or an Emirate don English-style school uniform, call their teachers “sir” and learn the rules of cricket.

Why do they do it? “It’s a wonderful cash-cow for us,” a satisfied registrar told us, recently. “They can’t all come to us here,” said another. “We simply don’t have the space. So we have set up a version of us over there that suits the way they expect a school to run; we send over some of our staff for a term or two each and it’s a great two-way learning experience.” And another, “Some of our year nines go there for a term and some of theirs come to us. It’s a real cultural exchange.”

Bottom line

The bottom line for all these schools – whether Harrow, Shrewsbury or Bromsgrove in Bangkok, Harrow or Dulwich in Beijing, Dulwich in Shanghai, Suzhou, Seoul or Singapore, Repton in Dubai, Marlborough in Malaysia, Wellington in Tianjin and Shanghai, Haileybury in Khazakhstan or even Brighton College in Abu Dhabi – to name just some – is that, whether these outposts are mere franchises using the hallowed name of the parent school or whether the school is a genuine and closely -connected branch – their purpose is to raise funds for the mother school here.

It is hardly a secret that there is plenty of new money in these parts of the world and plenty of parents anxious to buy into the extraordinary success story that is UK independent education. And why should our great schools not tap into some of that?

Ethiopia

How wonderfully refreshing then to hear of Broomwood, Ethiopia. Ethiopia? Hardly a tiger economy, you may think. Hardly the place to raise funds to build a new sports complex or performing arts centre, you might reasonably expostulate.

Broomwood Ethiopia is the creation of the founders, staff, parents and pupils of Broomwood School in south west London. The founders are Malcolm and Katherine Colquhoun who run Broomwood Prep and Northcote Lodge – preps which, between them educate 850 London children.

St George’s School

The school is St George’s in Gondar, in north west Ethiopia. It will educate orphans and some of the most vulnerable children in the area. It will start with around 100 of the neediest children but hopes, eventually, to give places to up to 1000. It will feed them, care for their health and even train up local teachers. It will provide boarding places for the older girls which will enable them to continue their education.

Broomwood in London has engaged in a massive fund-raising drive to make this possible. But think about it. It costs around £35,000 a year to send a child to a top boarding school in the UK. It will cost around £250 to educate and feed a child at St George’s in Ethiopia. And Broomwood won’t make a penny out of this project. The pennies they raise will go to Ethiopia.

Send your money here: http://www.broomwoodinethiopia.com/index.php/fundrasing/donate


07 Mar 2014

The Daily Telegraph and the TES quotes us! “London is a headcase”

We are quoted in this week’s Times Educational Supplement! http://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6411288 and today’s Telegraph http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10683248/Foreigners-fuelling-surge-in-demand-for-private-schools.html

– about the pressures now on parents to find places for their children in good schools – state or independent.

Here are some of the best bits from The TES piece:

Susan Hamlyn, Director of Educational Consultants at The Good Schools Guide, said: “[Schools’] constituency is now the world. For ordinary London families, they are under huge pressure from the global market. There’s this increasing sense [that] people don’t think in terms of national borders any more.”

The article then lists some of the new schools that are opening to meet at least some of this demand.

It goes on: The upturn in the private sector in London has also been linked to the shortfall in state school places, which is predicted to reach 118,000 by 2016. Middle-class parents are becoming “increasingly panicked” about getting their children into the best state schools, Ms Hamlyn said.

“It would be very easy if you had the money and the premises to fill up a [new private school] pretty fast, but it is difficult at the moment to find the premises to turn into a school,” she said. “The school would have to show that it’s good, with excellent staff, and have the PR behind it, but it’s only a slight exaggeration to say you could open a school in a cowshed and still fill it.”

Figures released this week showed that London’s most highly acclaimed state schools were vastly oversubscribed: the West London Free School received just over nine applications per place. And Harris City Academy Crystal Palace in South London was the most popular comprehensive, with just over 11 applicants per place…..

Ms Hamlyn said: “We have people ringing up [the educational consultants] when they are thinking of starting a family. It used to be when they were pregnant, before the baby was born. There is panic among parents that for state schools you have to live nearer and nearer academic senior schools to stand a chance of getting in.”

She described the situation in the capital as “a microclimate”, separate from the rest of the country. “London is a headcase, extreme,” she added.

And we stand by every word. We look to this government and any that comes after it to put serious resources, brainpower and energy behind meeting the need.


02 Mar 2014

Money Still Talks

It’s been a mixed week for us at the GSG Educational Consultants. We been mobbed by happy but fraught parents whose children have been offered places at two or more of their preferred schools and – ah! the decision! Not since Hamlet had to choose between to be or the other thing has so much agony been endured.

Frantic

But we’ve also heard from sad, even frantic, parents whose children – irony upon irony – have won the much-desired place but the parents have not been awarded the bursary they counted on. “Help us!” they cry. “He deserves it!” ” She is very clever and would love it there!” But the school is adamant. There is no money for them – or nothing like enough to make it feasible to accept the offered place.

Limited pot

We have been in the forefront of making parents aware of the possibilities where scholarships and bursaries are concerned. We have established the only national resource for parents which can tell them what, in principle, is available to whom and where. But we have always stressed to parents that any school, however well-endowed, has a limited pot of money and they have total independence in the allocation of their financial support.

It has been another bumper year for application numbers to good academic independent schools. Most registrars will tell you that they would have loved to offer places to many more children than they have – the standard was high enough – but they simply don’t have the places. The pressure on their fee assistance reserves is even more intense.

So, it’s hard to know how to respond to our clamorous and deeply disappointed parents.

And it makes us think even harder about how to advise parents whose children will be applying for next years’ bursaries.

Slim chance?

The most important thing has to be the welfare of the children. It is simply cruel to apply for a school you cannot possibly afford on the very slim chance of a bursary, if that is the only thing that would make accepting a place possible.

Be realistic!

Parents must educate themselves. Be realistic. Check with the school before applying as to what level of fee assistance they might have and, if possible, how they assess a family’s income and outgoings. If this feels too exposing, ask us at The GSGAS Scholarships and Bursaries Service. This could save you much heartache.

Be realistic about your child. Is he so clever or talented that any school will stretch the finances to get him in? If he isn’t, then he is unlikely to be at the top of the heap when it comes to bursary money.

The bottom line is that it is deeply unfair to a child to have his joy at successfully passing an entrance exam shattered by a parent’s unrealistic reliance on a scholarship or bursary.

Talk to us first.


01 Mar 2014

School Offer Day

Tomorrow – Monday March 3rd – is school offer day. Let us not anticipate in too much detail the lists that every newspaper – national and local – will publish telling us how many children have been given their first, second, last – or no – choice.

Anger

We can, however, anticipate the very real anger and bewilderment of the parents whose child seems to have no place at all or one in a neighbouring borough – far from his friends and a journey away. Why? because there are not enough senior school places in some areas. Did no-one know this was the case? Of course they did.

Acute

The problem is now getting more acute at primary level. In many urban areas the population of pre-schoolers is expanding fast and the odd new portacabin and additional part-time teacher is not the answer.

Is it too much to hope that in the 14 months left to the coalition government and the hyperactive Gove between now and the general election that the most powerful efforts will be made to meet the school place needs of a rapidly growing population?

Enough is enough

It’s all very well having different schools – academies, faith, free etc. What we need is enough schools. Above all, there needs to be a plan so that we have enough schools, enough places and enough teachers in every borough or shire.

We look for evidence that the government is doing the obvious sums. Take the number of school places away from the number of children due to start school in 2016 and you will be left with a number of children with no school places.

Easy as ABC.


22 Feb 2014

What Do We Teach Our Children?

A campaign is rapidly gathering signatures to ask that headteachers should all have access to information about Female Genital Mutilation. The hope is that if they are better informed they will be able to use their influence to protect the 24,000 girls in the UK who are at risk of this barbaric practice. Others call for the practice to be better understood by law enforcement officials and for there to be a far higher rate of prosecution against those who perpetrate these attacks.

No civilised person would defend this practice.

A headteacher in Bristol last week, in company with some of her pupils, launched a campaign to teach schoolchildren about FGM on the grounds that it is “a child protection issue”. The head, Gill Kelly, wrote in The Guardian:

It is not necessary for young children to see graphic images of mutilated bodies to understand how FGM works. Headteachers are the best people to judge what is right for students in their schools. Health professionals can deliver bespoke FGM programmes in consultation with headteachers, as and where appropriate. If we can just give teachers and other adults the tools and the language with which to communicate the anti-FGM message, more schools are likely to take part in this growing national campaign.

http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/feb/15/school-exactly-place-children-learning-fgm

The question raised here is whether we, as parents, want our children to be made aware that female genital mutilation is happening, here, in our own streets, perhaps to children they we know. Many people will, understandably, shy away from the whole matter but, since it is being forced upon us and may well be raised in our schools, we need to confront it. Do we want our children to be told of it, to understand what it is and why it is still done? Do we want this – however sensitively it is conveyed? Should we insist upon it?

Risk and resources

Does the fact that some girls are at risk justify shocking the many more hundreds of thousands to whom it could never happen? Will teaching children from homes in which such a thing is unheard of give any protection to those at risk? Should education resources be targeted intensively at those communities amongst whom such practices still exist?

It is often children at primary school stage who are mutilated. Does that mean that children at primary school should be made aware of FGM?

The question is in danger of becoming a right-left polarised debate. The Guardian is pro schools telling their children about FGM; Sarah Vine and the Daily Mail have staunchly opposed it – with considerable support.

Keep out politics

It must not become a political or a battle between ‘liberals’ and little Englanders. At the heart of the horrible story are innocent, vulnerable children. It is hard to see how a one-size-fits all approach is the most effective way to eradicate FGM from this country.


16 Feb 2014

Inadmissible Evidence

In yesterday’s Saturday Telegraph, The Good Schools Guide’s very own Janette Wallis – a veteran of many hundreds of school visits and consultations with parents – reported on our concern with the behaviour of schools’ admissions offices: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10638707/A-series-of-damaging-admissions.html.

She reports the experience of one of our, not particularly thin-skinned, advisors: “I rang a popular Berkshire boarding school…recently… for a client…the admissions office was so unfriendly that I immediately struck it from my list of possibles.”

We are not alone in being shocked by the dismissiveness, not to say rudeness, of some schools’ admissions depts. Parents – as Janette Wallis recounts – recall having been quite traumatised by their reception either when they make that first, tentative, but all-important call or, worse, when they actually arrive at a school. We hear of schools that never acknowledge email enquiries, don’t respond to telephone calls, don’t send forms they have promised, don’t acknowledge forms and cheques sent to them. We have heard of visiting parents being kept waiting for hours, being herded round in groups, unable to ask questions, being treated as nuisances, being offered no coffee, tea or loos.

Heads – when they hear how their admissions’ depts treat prospective parents – are always disbelieving and shocked. We are assured that everyone cares desperately, recruitment is meticulous and training rigorous.

There is no question that some schools – Janette Wallis cites several and I would add Sevenoaks to her list – give every caller the impression that the school is only too delighted to hear from them and that they would be welcome whenever they choose to call.

Sadly, this attitude is far from universal. It may well be a sellers’ market, especially for London schools and for our top boarding schools but admissions officers need to remember that a prospective parent is considering offering them the most precious thing they have – their child. The first call – the first visit – may well be the result of months or years of planning and attention to detail and the parent may well arrive full of hope, fear, anxiety and questions.

Efficiency, politeness and friendliness are the least any parent is entitled to expect.


16 Feb 2014

A Parent Writes….

A parent wrote to us after reading the piece about Admissions Officers in the Saturday Telegraph:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/secondaryeducation/10638707/A-series-of-damaging-admissions.html

I have read your article published in the Telegraph February 15th 2014 re admissions office. I wanted my daughter to have the opportunity to go to a public school but I had no money to fund this. I made an appointment, spoke with the headmaster and was totally honest, he (God bless him) found funding for her with two companies and she also had a bursary and I did pay a miniscule amount. My lovely daughter got to university and now works in London. Being a single parent made me more determined and I urge anyone thinking of going down the path of private education to not take no for an answer.


24 Jan 2014

Press Gang

Don’t they just love the independent schools? – the newspapers, I mean. “Posh schools” – that’s private or independent schools to you and me – are in the news daily. It’s usually because children from there are far more likely to be successful sportsmen, actors, City types – all in-built privilege, of course. If it’s not that, it’s the likelihood that if you go to a “posh” school, you’ll be molested, bullied, sexually abused, traumatised for life and never able to make an adult relationship.

Mind you, the press like schools of all kinds. Think how often you read of state schools – especially the ones with rampant gangs, endemic drugs, manic Muslims, no-one speaking English and no respect for authority. And where you don’t learn anything.

Hard for a parent then. Pay for education, get screwed by a paedophiliac teacher but make it to the top job. Or go to a state school, get into drugs, gangs, indoctrination, prison. And spend your life on the dole because the Poles have got all the jobs.

You pays your money. Or you don’t.

You don’t have to buy a paper.


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